Early Childhood Education / University of the Fraser Valley

December 16, 2015; The Dallas Morning News

Nobel Prize-winning economist and University of Chicago distinguished professor James Heckman has shown that quality early childhood development influences health, economic, and social outcomes for individuals and society at large. Heckman and other scientists have consistently pointed to the benefits that come from quality early childhood care. But for low-income families, getting it remains a financial and logistical challenge. Joining a growing list of funders who are investing in early child care is the Dallas Women’s Foundation, who has set up a three-year bridge fund for families who are eligible for state funding but are on waiting lists.

In a recent blog post about the new initiative, The Dallas Morning News explains that in Dallas, wait lists for child care can be six months or longer, with costs averaging $6,000 annually and $8,000 for infants. According to the post, single-parent families in Dallas “can expect to spend as much as 22 percent of their annual income solely on child care costs.”

As part of this this new three-year initiative, the Dallas Women’s Foundation has partnered with Educational First Steps, a nonprofit childcare provider. The initiative could help 200 low-income Dallas families with child care and provide the flexibility necessary for parents to find jobs or enroll in education programs themselves.

As child care has become a growing issue of importance nationally, foundations—particularly women’s foundations and community foundations—have established initiatives to support low-income families to offset high costs. According to The Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s report “Early Care and Education in the Washington Region” in Washington, D.C., the average annual cost of full-time center care for a child in 2013 was estimated at $22,000, 92 percent of the median income of a female-headed household. The same report notes that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that families not exceed 10 percent of their family income on child care. The foundation, which serves as a convener for local funders and the Early Care and Funders Collaborative, also estimates that center care costs for a child in 2013 were three times higher than the cost of one year’s tuition and fees at a four-year public college.

As part of an ambitious investigation of the intersection of child care and work force development in the U.S., the Urban Institute has launched a study titled “Bridging The Gap” that aims to identify the specific education and training needs of low-income families. As a part of this series, a report titled The Child Care Development Fund and Workforce Development for Low-Income Parents,” which was released this summer, offers key recommendations for policymakers. These include making the system more family-friendly so it’s easier for parents to obtain and keep assistance, implementing policies that support children’s development by supporting continuity of care and access to high-quality care, and strengthening the supply of child care to address gaps in underserved areas, including nontraditional-hour care as well as care for infants, toddlers, and children with disabilities. This is a long and detailed list but worthy of the close attention of state leaders and policymakers. —Anne Eigeman